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Stay Safe When Couchsurfing or Using Other Hotel Alternatives for Budget Travel

Updated on December 10, 2010

Many people are trying to save money on their summer vacations this year by skipping the usual hotel stays and going for budget accommodations instead. These accommodations including couchsurfing, renting a room in a stranger’s home and staying in youth hostels or bed-and-breakfasts. These are all terrific ways to reduce the cost of summer travel. They can also provide really interesting travel experiences since they give you the chance to meet new people and to spend time in locations that you might not otherwise have visited. However, there are some risks that you open yourself up to when you choose to stay in alternatives to hotels. It’s important to make sure that you practice smart travel safety habits when staying somewhere other than a hotel.

Travel Safety Tips for Staying in a Stranger’s Home

There are many options these days for staying in the home of a stranger who is interested in hosting travelers. You can find a couch to stay on for free using systems like Alternatively you can rent out a room in someone’s house or apartment for a rate that is much more affordable than a typical hotel stay.A lot of people have started to open up their homes in this way to gain a bit of added income during these tough economic times. And if you want to save money on travel, this is a great option for doing so. However, you have to be careful.

Here is a look at some of the risks of staying in a stranger’s home and some tips to protect you from those risks:

Personal Safety. The biggest risk of staying with strangers is the fact that you’re putting yourself at risk of physical harm. Entering the home of someone that you don’t know means that you’re taking the chance that this person may be inviting you in for the ulterior motive of attacking you. Tips for preventing this include:

• Use a safe site to find these hotel alternatives. Sites like and iStopOver are designed to screen participants and to allow hosts and guests to review each other so that there’s an reduced risk of threats to your personal safety when using these sites. In contrast, sites like Craigslist aren’t as secure.

• Ask a lot of questions via email and phone before the visit. Don’t hesitate to ask everything that you want to know about the place where you are staying and the people that you’re going to be staying with.

• Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right then don’t go there. If you get there and something feels off, leave. It’s better to spend money on a last minute hotel than to put yourself in harm’s way.

Threat of personal item theft. It is possible that the host may steal from you. Follow the above rules for screening your hosts. Also follow these tips:

• Secure your personal belongings. Bring a suitcase that you can lock so that your valuables aren’t on display in this person’s home.

• Take money, credit cards and ID with you when you leave the place. You want to make sure that those things are with you when you’re checking out sights during the day.

• Respect the home. The better you are as a houseguest, the better you’ll be treated.

Risk of flakiness. One problem that you have with this type of lodging that isn’t a problem with hotels is that your hosts may end up flaking out on you at the last minute leaving you with no place to stay. Avoid that by:

• Use a reputable agency as described above.

• Include a cancellation cause in the contracts that you work out before the trip.

• Have a back-up plan for where you’ll stay if this happens to you.

Risk of illness. You open yourself up more to catching colds when you stay in someone’s home. A home isn’t kept quite as clean as a hotel and you’re in close quarters with other people. Avoid getting sick during your stay by doing the following:

• Boost your immune system before and during the trip. Eat right, take your vitamins, etc.

• Wash your hands frequently.

• Clean your own bedding and towels in the local laundry.

• Wipe down the shower with disinfectant before using it.

Travel Safety Tips for Staying in Shared Lodging

There are other options for shared lodging besides staying in a stranger’s home. Two common hotel alternatives are youth hostels and bed-and-breakfasts. These are places where you get your own bed in a private or shared room and then share common areas including the kitchen, bathroom and lounge area. With this option you’ll face fewer risks to your personal safety but may face more risks to your health. Some tips to follow in addition to those above include:

• Read reviews on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to help you find a good place to stay.

• Consider bringing your own bedding. The laundry at some of these places is not always done up to par. The large number of people coming through here often means increased exposure to things like lice. You should be vigilant about protecting your health.

• Try to get a private room. You’ll face fewer threats to your personal safety if you don’t have to sleep in a room with strangers.

• Make sure you know who to speak with to address problems. There should be someone in charge at these places at all times. Introduce yourself to the person on duty and ask about protocol for reporting any problems.

For the most part, it’s safe to enjoy this type of reduced-price travel. You just need to make sure that you’re being smart about protecting your belongings and your person when you choose to travel this way. See the links below for additional safety tips.



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